Long, dense braids of black hair. A crisp, curved brow over rich, brown eyes. Full lips that part to release a sultry, soulful voice or, during conversation, a sincere smile. With all the makings of a modern-day diva, and none of the entitlement, Wynter Gordon has a remarkable ability to be at once both completely disarming and unequivocally confident. Since beginning her career as a singer and songwriter in 2005, Gordon has spent the last year developing her latest project, a band called The Righteous Young, which blends influences of R&B, hip hop and soul.
“As an artist, Wynter has always kept people on their toes,” said Tim Anderson, an artists and repertoire manager at Harvest Records, who recently signed Gordon. “She doesn’t limit her sound stylistically or allow herself to be put in a box. When you see her perform it all becomes clear. She’s so dynamic onstage, there’s a classic vibe to it. She reminds me of the great singers from every era of music.”
Dyanmic progression is a recurring theme for Gordon, who has encountered some harsh truths about the music industry. And while a younger, more naïve Gordon would have simply accepted these circumstances, the outspoken and confident woman she has become loves to challenge them. “I feel current artists—the ones that are making the money at least—kind of just fell in line,” said Gordon. “They do what they have to do to make their money.”
Gordon’s new project stands as an indictment against the current state of the music business—one that she feels recycles the same unflattering stereotypes for female recording artists. As this latest venture comes together, so too does the ever-evolving omnibus of her experiences as an artist still discovering herself.
Years before Gordon began writing hits for R&B queens like Mary J. Blige and having her own songs play on the radio—Gordon’s smash single “Dirty Talk” has nearly 15 million YouTube views—she was a passionate student attending the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York. The education Gordon received here became a powerful means of self-expression for the otherwise shy teenager. “School was a freeing place,” she said. “I grew up very poor and was raised in a strict Christian, cult-like household in South Jamaica, Queens, so all I had was my imagination and music became my escape.”
After interning at MCA Records, where people started noticing her talent, and a six-month stint at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Gordon realized she had the chops to land a record deal. In the meantime, she supported herself by waiting tables and working coat check at Reign, a nightclub in Bedstuy. When Gordon found out one of her coworkers at the club, Don Pooh, worked closely with Mary J. Blige, she was resolute about playing her music for him. “This is so cliché, but I played him my CD in the basement of the club,” said Gordon. “He thought I was good so he gave me a track that Mary J. Blige had chosen for [her new] album. I went home and wrote to it. Mary J. picked my song. That was my foot in the door. ”
From there, Gordon signed with Atlantic Records where she worked with an artists and repertoire executive named Sickamore. Shortly after inking the deal, however, Sickamore—who Gordon credited as “her biggest champion”—left the label. “Every time I worked with someone new, they had a different vision of me and I didn’t yet have a vision of myself,” said Gordon, who worked with various managers after Sickamore. “Because of the way I was as a kid, I would just back down and do what I was told.”
Gordon’s last A&R, Mike Harin, encouraged her to pursue dance music. Although she did not feel passionate about the genre, Gordon thought it might be a viable way to prove herself as a recording artist and eventually make the music she wanted to.
Her debut as a dance artist came in the form of a chart-topping hit called “Dirty Talk”—a song Gordon had several qualms about releasing because of its sexually suggestive lyrics. “In this day and age, music goes everywhere and I knew there would be kids listening to the song,” said Gordon. “My niece was 10-years-old and I heard her singing it. I felt a social responsibility. I know that as an artist I am free to do what I want, but that was not the message I wanted to express.”
Despite Gordon’s uncertainty about the song, fans loved it. Soon she was touring and collaborating with the likes of Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Steve Aoki and although she felt personally unfulfilled and creatively stifled as an artist, Gordon found continued success creating dance music for other musicians including Flo Rida, David Guetta, and Jennifer Lopez. But by the end of 2012, Gordon had to make a tough decision. She had the option to continue her career as a dance artist or to drop her label and, with it, all the money she was making from tours and radio play. “I think it was Christmas morning and I called up Julie Greenwald, who was a VP at Atlantic at the time,” she said. “I was in tears and I just said, ‘Julie, I can’t fucking do this anymore. I’m not singing what I want to sing, I’m not touching the people I want to touch, and I just can’t push this agenda anymore.’ ”
The following year, Gordon used her earnings to buy studio time and record music on her own terms. She used this period of reflection and experimentation to discover herself, not only as an artist, but also as a woman. “I felt like I was living my twenties for the first time,” she said. “I finally felt like I was my own person.” She released her debut album, The Human Condition, as an independent artist.
Feelings of betrayal and anger had long been churning within the impassioned singer and finally she had found her voice as a means for releasing this pain. “I wrote this song called ‘Stimela,’” she said. “It was my own version of a song that Hugh Masekela did.” The song, which featured afrobeat and jazz undertones, marked Gordon’s first departure from dance music. Pleased to see fans resonating with her more experimental sound, she thought, “I think I found something here.”
With 2014 comes The Righteous Young, a five-piece band for which she is the frontwoman and has been developing for the last year. Since beginning the project, Gordon has been experimenting with her sound and testing her chemistry with other artists. Collaborations with famed producers D’Mile and Mike Elizondo, best known for his work with Dr. Dre and Eminem, have encouraged Gordon to hone a style that is all her own on the still-nameless album slated to debut at the end of the year. A song off the upcoming release that Gordon is particularly invested in, “Get Back,” features vocals by rapper A$AP Ferg and a compilation of old African songs. “It’s about how long I have struggled to get to this point—the people I have had to deal with, the times I had to play a part that wasn’t me all the while knowing what I wanted.”
Freed of the insecurities and restrictions that plagued her earlier years, Gordon has embarked in a new direction with honesty and conviction. “People need to start saying something with their music. Tell a story, move someone, strengthen, inspire—those are my goals,” she said. Through the process of writing and recording the debut album with her new band, Gordon has recalled struggles from her past with a new, more purposeful perspective, and is now writing songs about the strength she has found, both as a women and as an artist, that she lacked in her earlier years. “My music sounds like revolution,” she said. “The songs I write now, they are about freedom and self-discovery.”
Hair and Skin, the third annual summer show organized by Derek Eller Gallery’s associate director Isaac Lyles, is a group exhibition featuring the works of over a dozen artists. Fascinated by developing research on mirror neurons found in the brain and their role in triggering empathetic emotions, Lyles chose works that “present the body in extremes to explore the potential of physical empathy and bodily resonance.”
While this research suggests that the brain actually simulates the experience of what it sees, the work of art historian David Freedberg and neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese emphasizes “the primacy of cognition in responses to art.” Lyles’ dissatisfaction with this characterization, which he believes reduces the experience of viewing art to a merely intellectual one, was largely the impetus for this exhibition. Instead, Lyles proposes a way of looking that doesn’t give primacy to a disembodied mind, but to the embodied mind and the embodied vision.
Tell me about your background and your introduction to the art world.
I grew up in Dallas, Texas, the son of a Protestant pastor turned decorative artist. I grew up around art as something that was integrated with everyday life. My father actually co-founded an artisan’s guild of ironworkers, people making mosaics and tapestries—all these things to enrich daily experience. I went into art history, which I thought of as an undisciplined discipline. You know art is about life, which means art addresses everything—politics, rock & roll, history, gender, race, love, the body. I went to the University of Texas and studied art history. Then, I moved to Berlin. I lived in Berlin, London, a small fishing village in Scotland named Ballantrae. I wore Calhoun tartan and carried silver platters at a castle turned posh hotel.
That’s not something many people can say they have done.
I wanted to have some experiences. I didn’t want to do things the right way—graduate, go to New York, work my way up the ladder from one point to another. I felt that if I were going to work with art then I would need to have experiences. I needed to be alive, I needed to feel—different perspectives, have some freedom, and see some things beyond what everyone else is seeing. Just to enjoy being alive because that’s when you really see what art is about. You know, it gives you the best for your moments to paraphrase a guy named Walter Pater. You have a limited interval on this planet and you try to get as many sensations as you can within this limited interval. That’s why I love art and working with art.
As Associate Director at Derek Eller, it seems like that philosophy has served you well thus far.
I’ve been very lucky. Working with Derek Eller and Abby Messitte is amazing. They’ve been running the gallery for over 15 years. They are amazing people and have an amazing eye. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities. This is the third exhibition I have curated here.
Can you tell me a bit about the process of a curator—from the brainstorming stage to the opening, what goes on?
It’s funny, one of the artists in the exhibition, Maria Petschnig asked me, “how long were you working on the exhibition?” I said, in a sense, the last decade. In another sense, the beginning of March. So much of this is an outgrowth of what I have worked on before. To that, I would say curating a show needs to begin somewhere personal. For me, I am deeply personally invested in all of my shows. I have an intellectual interest, but I am not guided by using art to prove a thesis. Curating a show is, like writing, a process of discovery. You ultimately don’t know what the show is until you have it done and everything is relating to each other. Only then you realize, oh wait, this is what I did. To believe otherwise is a little disingenuous and art’s ability to surprise you shouldn’t be underestimated. That said, I think it always begins with, what am I excited about? What am I connecting with right here—what am I connecting with personally and what have I not explored? For me, I hadn’t done a show that represented the body. So, I felt that it would be a bit daring and difficult to do a show about something so common as the body and to do it in a way that had both verve, sensitivity, and was very alive and aggressive at the same time. I wanted the show to hit several notes from loud to soft, abrasive to gentle, large to small—to pull you in, to push you out to where it is a very physical experience and to where the artworks bring things out in each other. I think the great test of a curator is in putting the art in other contexts. You have a responsibility to the artists and to the artworks In this context, you draw certain ideas, certain feelings, certain experiences that you may have not otherwise by creating certain juxtapositions. Put a Hans Bellmer across from a Davina Semo, suddenly the Davina Semo has that much more of a figurative quality. It puts it into relation with this history, there’s a lot that can go on there. It brings out the more figurative quality; if I put that in a show of geometric abstraction, you would not think about the human figure, you would think about geometric abstraction. I think it’s a process of what excites me and what can work together to make an exciting and unexpected exhibition.
This exhibition was partially inspired by ongoing research on mirror neurons, which suggests that humans have the ability to sympathize with others in a way that is “what I see is what I feel.” Can you elaborate on that?
I think art writing is often disingenuous. Our first experience of looking is something that is physical; we process are through our senses. It isn’t a pure intellectual experience, nor would we want it to be. It doesn’t come from that place even though it has it’s own intelligence. With mirror neurons, some of the science helped me articulate what I already felt and what many people I have relationships with have felt. The experience of looking is not one that is disembodied, which is very much the discourse that the discussion of vision has centered on in art history—that it’s a disembodied thing, that it is an objectifying thing when it’s really not. It’s more of an exchange. What mirror neurons are designed for is essentially that if you do something, my mirror neurons fire as if I were doing the same thing you were doing. This is something they believe to be true, but research is still ongoing. One, how we learn to do things is through imitation. Two, it’s also how we have empathy for others. I see you cry, the mirror neurons fire as though I am crying. That’s how I feel what you feel, think what you think, or maybe do what you do. They found that it also works with imagery, like a photo of something or a video of something. Not only that, but in paintings and art works, there is a certain way that we process things in a much more embodied engaged way. I wanted to explore representations of the body in extremes—the body fragmented, the body broken as a means to explore that feeling of what that empathy could be, of what it could to, of that bodily resonance that one can have with artwork. I wanted to try to set up situations where the viewer does have that.
You said that your dissatisfaction with what David Freedberg and Vittorio Gallese characterize as “the primacy of cognition in responses to art” was the impetus for this exhibition.
David Freedberg is an art historian that worked at Columbia and Vittorio Gallese is a neuroscientist and they’ve been working together. Essentially what they are talking about is, again, that art historical discourse that reduces art to an intellectual pawn. I am deeply involved and deeply interested in politics and social issues; I’m a news junkie. I think those things are engaged with art, but I don’t feel the primary experience, with art, is a political or sociological one. I think it’s something that is more sensorial. What is troubling to writers and intellectuals is that it automatically puts that as a subjective experience, though you want to prove something—maybe you have some sort of hypothesis and you’re dealing with something that is slippery because you’re in subjective territory. And, again, I think that’s what is exciting about art, the destabilizing effect. Art is about disorientation, about the unknown. D.H. Lawrence said, “To know a thing is to kill it.” I think that’s why great art, every time you go see it, is still alive—it’s still shifting, moving, and your relation to it changes, but it’s still fresh.
So you seem to be conflicted with the need to objectify art as a purely intellectual experience to reduce its potential for subjectivity.
I come from an art historian background, so it’s not an anti-intellectual attitude. For me, I am interested in science pointing towards a way of looking that doesn’t give primacy to a disembodied mind, but to an embodied mind. And that is really what this is about, about the embodied mind and the embodied vision. The show itself and the art isn’t about that and that doesn’t have to be part of the experience. That is me being forthcoming and putting the show within a certain discourse if someone chooses to be interested in that. For some people, they may not give a damn about that and that’s fine. Other people have been very responsive and have said, “this is fascinating, and this articulates something I’ve thought for a while.” That’s why I thought it was necessary to put it out there when at first I was thinking about burying it.
Why do you believe art is such a powerful vehicle for communicating and inciting emotion in the viewer?
I think, again, art comes out of a need to express the inexpressible, to give shape and form to the ineffable. I think that is an extraordinary thing that will continue to evolve and change, but that’s part of our human history. It’s a joy to be part of that and to be able to facilitate that.
Are you an artist yourself?
No, I never have been. I put my hand in a lot of cookie jars. I’ve been in random synth punk improv bands that wore costumes in Austin, Texas. I’ve written and done zines and things like this. I’m still very much interested in doing more writing, but for me, I think I’m too social to be an academic. I like being in the trenches. I like being where things are happening, where art history is being made, rather than sorting through the ashes afterward. Again, I think it’s about being able to work with an amazing community of people that are by and large intelligent and welcoming, that are engaged with the meat of existence. But being able to constantly be around art requires a certain honing and love of the senses. To be able to be better and better at looking at art is all about constantly cleaning. William Blake wrote,“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.” When so much of our lives get frittered away by detail, to be able to focus and lock in and look at something and experience something and always having to be able to say, I have to be open to this right now—and I can be open to it and say, this sucks.
For someone who is not as well read in art history and experienced with looking at art, would you say there is a particular way to view art? Is there a way we are supposed to look at art?
I feel like the first key to looking at art is to look at a lot of it. Just like with certain music, you may have heard it the first time and it may have sounded like noise. You listen to it more; suddenly a structure or melody emerges. I think art is that way as well. First of all, there is, like music, a lot of shit, but there are great things, too. I think one of the most important things for someone starting out looking at art and isn’t fully confident yet is to be able to feel comfortable hating something. I think it’s really important because people feel uncertain. Certain people want easier pleasures, whether that is food—they only eat hamburgers, but then there are amazing, exciting things to eat if you open your mind a little more and train your palette. With clothes, you could always wear a shitty t-shirt and jeans, but maybe there’s something exciting about the world of fashion. And with art, if you spend a little more time with it and train your eyes to seeing—it doesn’t happen immediately but there’s also a reason why a lot of people get seduced into this world. Not everyone here was born into it. There are a lot of people from Oklahoma or Ohio that, for them, art was something far away and they embraced it. Art is a means out of the banality of their circumstances. I think the thing is having a certain self-certainty that you can dislike what you dislike, and you can what you like. I think what art also teaches us is certain humility in that what you see now and dislike, you may like later. What you dislike could also turn out to be great. You could be wrong about certain things.
That’s interesting. I’ve asked other artists a similar question before. Is the image of an artwork something you should carry with you as you change and grow? Could it take on new meaning in new contexts of your life?
Yeah, it’s always true. With everything, you learn a lot from the things you hate. If I dislike that, this is why and it helps hone my sense of why I love what I love—because it’s not that.
Information about the exhibition
Featuring the work of artists Hans Bellmer, Louise Bourgeois, Günter Brus, Borden Capalino, David Dupuis, Daniel Gordon, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Kineko Ivic, Lionel Maunz, Maria Petschnig, Chloe Piene, Adam Putnam, Aura Rosenberg, Davina Semo, Bobbi Woods, Rona Yefman
On a late summer evening in SoHo, Alec Monopoly stood before his canvas—a blank sliding door commissioned as a functional piece of artwork for the patron’s TriBeCa loft. The anonymous street artist, who has become known for his depictions of the famous Monopoly character Mr. Pennybags, worked on the stoop outside of a studio he was temporarily sharing with fellow artist Harif Guzman.
He wore a tattered top hat and spoke from behind a scarf wrapped bandana-style around the lower half of his face, a look that has become Alec’s signature. Meanwhile, a steady stream of pedestrians slowed down as they walked by the scene, catching a glimpse of the artist at work. Swiftly and skillfully applying layer upon layer of spray paint, Alec’s choices were unpredictable with new colors and designs emerging every few minutes.
Although the busy streets of downtown New York buzzed around him, Alec tuned out his surroundings and was utterly immersed in his work. In many ways, this attitude and focus is one that permeates all aspects of his identity as an artist.
“My true passion is street art—that’s where I have the most fun,” said Alec. “I’m not going to be sell out and stop painting in the streets. That’s all I really care about, you know.”
This immense passion is what led Alec on to his path of becoming the recognizable street artist he is today. In 2008, Alec became enthralled with the Bernie Madoff scandal as it unfolded in the media. He thought of creating a portrait of the disgraced investor—something that offered both social commentary and biting humor. Alec, who learned to paint from his artist mother, recalled his favorite childhood board game of Monopoly for its considerable relevance to the scandal.
“Bernie Madoff is similar to the Monopoly man, Mr. Pennybags,” explained Alec. “The object of the game is to bankrupt your opponent and win. I started the canvas that night—but it’s funny, I never finished it because I immediately went out and did graffiti of it. The canvas is still unfinished.”
Marking his first experience with painting the streets, Alec soon fell in love with the rush he received from working with larger, more public formats. “Painting a wall is like painting a massive canvas. I kind of have a little bit of a Napoleon complex. I was always the little kid in school; so for me, painting a huge wall makes me feel a little bigger.”
Alec’s tags and his renderings of Mr. Pennybags began consistently showing up on walls around New York City. The artist became so closely associated with his trademark character that many viewers referred to him as the Monopoly man. “I play with identity more. I started doing it as a character, not as myself. Now, even I reference myself as the Monopoly man. [This transformation] kind of just happened on its own—it’s been an adventure.”
After several arrests and death threats from gang-affiliated graffiti artists, Alec realized that anonymity was a crucial step to protecting himself on the streets. “Graffiti is kind of an evil underworld. There are a lot of haters out there after me, so it’s nice to be anonymous.” He adds, “Anonymity also gives me the freedom to do as much graffiti as a I want.”
The 27-year-old New York native, who has since relocated to Los Angeles, rarely stays in one place for too long. Having spent the last few weeks travelling from Coachella to the Cannes Film Festival to Monte Carlo, Alec’s life reads more like that of a rock star’s than it does a street artist. On any given day, he may be riding around on four wheelers with Barron Hilton, heir to Hilton Hotels, or hanging out with a circle of celebrities and tastemakers. But Alec insists he sees himself as an artist first and foremost. “I try not pay attention to that kind of stuff,” admitted Alec. “I’d rather just focus on my work. It’s weird—I don’t really consider myself to be famous.”
But Alec has certainly achieved a certain level of recognition for his work on the streets and in galleries alike. His latest solo show “Park Place” was hosted in March at LA street art gallery LAB Art and marked his west coast debut. A retrospective of his work as an artist thus far, Alec committed the six months preceding the opening to producing the best show he was capable of. “I did nothing but paint—all day, everyday. I didn’t leave my studio at all most days over those few months; just sat in there and worked all day long.” Alec joked, “It was good for me and I felt healthy [since] I wasn’t going out and partying every night.”
The show, which Alec considers his “best one yet,” featured several of the artist’s solo works as well as collaborations he had completed with iconic photographer Richard Corman and actor Adrien Brody. Corman, who is best known for his black and white film shots of a young Madonna Ciccone, first partnered with Alec about a year and a half ago to collaborate on a Vitamin Water-sponsored project for W Hotels.
“For the first time since 1983, when I shot Madonna, I began working with some of the images I’d never shown before,” said Corman. “My gallery, Rock Paper Photo, aligned me with the W Hotel, Vitamin Water, and Alec. It was basically my images, but we created one or two canvases per location that Alec painted on. As soon as I met him, I knew he was the real thing and it has just continued.”
For this particular show, Alec painted over photographs Corman had taken of Michael Douglas for the Wall Street movie poster and Jean-Michel Basquiat—one of Alec’s chief artistic influences. “He helped to redefine my work—reenergize it and just give it a different spin,” said Corman. “Alec would say he’s a street artist, but I would say he’s an incredible painter, first and foremost.”
Another highlight of the show was Alec’s collaboration with Adrien Brody. The Oscar-winning actor, who donated a 1967 Rolls Royce and a 1964 Pontiac Catalina convertible for Alec to paint, has been a big collector and friend of the artist for a few years now. With Alec’s painted-on additions, the Pontiac became a custom, life-size Monopoly game piece, while the Rolls Royce was created specifically for Brody, who plans to park it at the center of his sprawling castle in upstate New York.
Blurring the lines between art and commerce, Alec decided to sell one of his paintings from the show for $3 million—in Monopoly money. This transaction, which is apparently the first of its kind, was largely a playful experiment for the artist. “I do a lot of stuff like that for fun—just to make people laugh.”
While gallery shows have been high points in developing Alec’s career and growth as an artist, he maintains that they incite entirely different emotions than he experiences while painting on the street.
“It’s completely different,” said Alec. “You can express yourself on canvas much differently than on the streets. In a gallery, it’s hard to replicate the emotions of being out there and looking out for the cops. When you’re in the streets, there are several emotions that you’ll never have in the gallery. That’s why a lot of street artists aren’t successful gallery artists, because the work doesn’t translate.”
The initial curiosity and excitement that inspired Alec to become a street artist eight years ago are still obvious today. Receiving more and more recognition as a popular artist, Alec certainly has a long and promising career ahead of him.
“Doing the canvas and the gallery stuff is important, but it’s more of a vehicle to do the graffiti and travel,” said Alec. “Walls can crash down one day or get painted over, so when you are doing canvas you are persevering your work. But if I could get paid to just paint the streets, I’d probably only do that. I’ll never deny the streets.”
Like the iconic board game that sparked his artistic journey, Alec’s work manages to be at once both traditional and culturally relevant. More than just a platform for his success, street art is the driving force that continues to inspire Alec to create—the Monopoly man lives on both in the streets and within the artist’s soul.
When rap music began emerging as a genre in the 1970s, it was all about which emcee could outflow the others and win the favor of the DJ and audience. There was the unwritten law that a rapper must achieve a certain level of credibility on the streets and among his peers in order to be regarded as the best in his game. While in many ways the game remains the same, the rules have indisputably changed. No longer does a rapper have to be from the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhood in his city to gain the respect of listeners and other artists.
Danny Seth embodies the very notion that the toughest flows can emerge from the unlikeliest of artists—regardless of their race or background. A white London rapper quickly on the come up in the United States, Seth is no stranger to stereotypes; in fact, he even wrote a track about them. In “Stereotypes,” which appears on Seth’s second EP Prespliffs Volume II, released in January, he confronts the critics who attack him on the basis of being white and Jewish.
“I think now is the time in hip-hop when it’s acceptable to talk about where you’re from,” said Seth. “There are people like Drake, who didn’t come from a broke background and is Jewish. Obviously I get the haters, but fuck them. I would probably hate me, too.”
Unfortunately, Seth says most of the hate he receives comes from people in his hometown. The rapper, who has spent time working in the states, has received criticism from English listeners that feel his background and American influence disqualify him as a true UK “grime” rapper.
“It’s hard when your own city doesn’t back you,” said Seth. “I’m trying to do something so different. I’m trying to come from an American standpoint. I love grime and UK hip-hop, but I can’t do either of them because I’m not from a grimy area. In England, you either do grime or you do UK hip-hop. If you do anything else, you are shunned upon, which is horrible to think.”
For his first EP Prespliffs Volume I, released in September 2012, Seth experimented with several different movements and trends in music. A couple years ago, when he was making the record, electronic dance music, dubstep, and trap were becoming increasingly prevalent in rap music. But he soon found that listeners were quickly writing him off as just another EDM-trap artist. “I hate that shit now, but a year ago it was cool as fuck—no one else was doing it. I was quick to get pigeonholed—people were like ‘bars, bars, bars.’ I thought, ‘Oh fuck, this is not what I wanted at all.’ ”
Seth took a step back and reevaluated his goals as a musician. With his second EP Volume II already in mind, the rapper found it was crucial to understand the sub-genres of hip-hop music and to study the moves of powerful artists who he admires. For this sort of insight, Seth traveled to hip-hop capitals in the United States working alongside other artists who had achieved success for their atypical styles.
“I lived in Los Angeles, I went to Atlanta, I went to New York. I wanted to get a feel for how Americans were feeling the hip-hop scene,” said Seth. “I was friends with Trinidad [James] before he blew up. I was there as everything was popping off. Even in England, I was in America in my mind with the music I was listening to. I’m just trying to reflect that sound with an English twist.”
Seth was pleased—and a little surprised—to see how quickly hip-hop fans in the US embraced his uncharacteristic sound. A blend of influences including everything from UK bass to dirty south has landed Seth’s music on several blogs that praise his flow and persona alike. On making that often-tricky transition to America from across the pond, Seth admits it was easier than he thought. “My shit took off over there in the states. I had to hustle a lot, too. After some blogs picked me up, I caught wildfire.”
Perceptive of the current climate within the hip-hop sphere, Seth embraces this mixture of the high and low, counting Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, and A$AP Rocky as major influences. In “See Me Interlude,” another track off Volume II, Seth raps over a drum-heavy beat that samples Carl Orff’s classic orchestral song “O Fortuna.” ”
He also has his own fashion venture in the form of a menswear accessories label called Boadicea, named after the ancient English warrior queen. “I think this is a good time for music and fashion,” Seth said. “I’ve got so much respect for Rocky—he’s the first rapper I’ve seen on the cover of Vogue. The fact that the music and the fashion go hand in hand and I’m getting attention for it is great.”
And since he has been getting attention for his music and style, Seth is also aware of how his persona might be misinterpreted by listeners.
“I don’t want to be seen as a gimmick,” said Seth. “There are a lot of white rappers out there who are gimmicky and shit like that. I wanted people to see that I could make the bangers—I could make songs like ‘Toronto,’ but I can rap, too.”
Still Seth is not afraid to expose his more humorous side, but does so within a specific context. At the beginning of the video for the track “WVRNING”—a precursor to his highly anticipated mixtape, TeaSpliffs—Seth introduces an alter-ego that mocks his most persistent haters, who have gone so far as to make derogatory phone calls.
“He’s sort of my version of Eminem’s Slim Shady,” said Seth. “What I wanted to prove is that I’m a nice guy, I’m a funny guy. I can have fun and make jokes in the intro, but when you listen to my rap, the jokes stop and the fucking lyrics take over.”
With such an original flow and the confidence to back it, Seth certainly has a grander vision for his career as a rapper. “When I’m having lobsters with Pharrell and Yeezy at the same table, then I might sit there and think, ‘All right, I’m doing quite well.’ ”
Above all, however, he strives to keep it real. “I never want to come across as fake. I haven’t come from a terrible background. I just chat about what’s on my mind at the moment. Lucky for me, I’ve had a lovely run with women and fun experiences with drugs as I grew up, so I chat about real situations.”
In addition to finishing up his trilogy of EPs, Seth is also working on a covers record called Sheets, in which he remakes tracks from some of his current influences, including A$AP Ferg’s “Work.”
Seth credits the help of his network of friends and supporters as a significant reason for the success he has experienced so far. As part of an artist collective called Last Night in Paris, Seth is one of several directors, painters, designers, and musicians who collaborate with one another on their respective projects. He’s also worked with other collectives including a New York based group of producers who go by Tribe Gvng.
In-house music producer Zach Nahome, who Seth has referred to as a 19-year-old wunderkind, has made some of Volume II’s toughest beats including “Paychecks” and “Flow.” “We really get each other and started in this together,” said Seth of Nahome. “He used to make house and when I started making hip-hop, he converted. He actually linked up with Last Night in Paris first, which is how I initially got involved. Now we’re all one big clique.”
Seth’s efforts thus far have been entirely independent. Having recorded all his music from his living room studio, he’s only just begun to scratch the surface. Already garnering the attention of influential artists and producers, the charismatic young rapper is confident about his future in both music and fashion. Although his ultimate goal is to become a successful artist by creating music he believes in, Seth is adamant about achieving fame and fortune on his own terms.
“So many people are quick to label an artist as white rapper,” said Seth. “I fucking hate white rappers apart from Eminem. I’m not going to name names, but those who make music for white kids. I’m trying to make music for the white kids and the black kids and the whoever. I want whoever to say, “Yo, this sounds dope. I wanna get fucked up to this.”
With a sharp ear for emerging trends in hip-hop and the capacity to navigate the ever-changing landscape of the genre, Seth is extremely dedicated to making himself a more fully developed and innovative artist. While he may not have to prove himself in the streets, Seth is intent on creating music that will garner attention from fans and respect from the artists he admires.
“I’ve had the chance to work with some big people, but I don’t want to jump ahead of myself,” said Seth. “I don’t want to work with the biggest producers, be hot for a minute, and then fall off. When it’s the right time and big producers come to me to work, we’ll work for the album. For now, I wanna do this all myself.”
One morning, six years ago, the then-three-month old Aelita Andre sat wailing in her stroller within the Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Agitated looks emanating from all corners of the room chastised the parents as if to say, this is no place for a child. In an attempt to soothe his disquieted daughter, Michael Andre lifted Aelita from her stroller until she was eye level with the paintings. Within just a few seconds, the crying ceased as Aelita fixed her gaze on the work in front of her
“She probably was telling us, by yelling, ‘Pick me up, I want to see, too!’ ” Nikka recalled. “She doesn’t want to sit in the stroller and observe our feet; she wishes to see artworks, too.”
Michael, along with Aelita’s mother Nikka, sought to ignite a sense of creativity and wonder in their daughter from a young age. Now, at just six years old, Aelita is the “youngest professional painter in the world” and still somewhat of an anomaly in a typically exclusive industry. Her work as an artist has already earned her three solo exhibitions at Agora Gallery, one of New York City’s leading contemporary fine art galleries. Coveted by abstract art collectors, a few of Aelita’s paintings sell for upwards of $20,000, though most cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
Raised in Melbourne, Australia by parents who are visual artists, Aelita has always been witness to the creative process behind making art. As soon as she could crawl across the sprawling canvases her father painted on, Aelita began experimenting with different materials and color combinations.
Aelita completed some of her earliest works just after turning one, but according to the artist, she “first started painting inside mummy's tummy.” Gesturing towards a piece she completed more recently, Aelita indicates that she had painted similar works while in the womb. “I had my whole painting area in mummy's tummy. And I also made magic in mummy's tummy.”
Although she was not yet able to speak fluently, Aelita’s parents insist that she would communicate through her paintings. “She was making conversation happen through the colors,” Nikka said. “Painting for her is like, for us, talking and listening. For Aelita, it is how she expresses herself.”
Sometimes Aelita treats painting as a sort of performance art—singing and dancing around her canvases—as a way to further exude her emotions. “I feel like a magical space unicorn when I paint,” said Aelita enthusiastically. “I am very inspired about my artwork.”
Just after her first birthday, Aelita already had the consistent ability to stay focused on one work for almost 40 minutes at a time. Her parents liken Aelita’s process to a meditative practice, noting her extreme thoughtfulness and patience in creating her works. According to Nikka, “After Aelita finishes painting, she sits, puts her hands together, and thinks. And she will sit there like that for a few minutes.”
When Aelita was about two years old, Nikka said she actively began to notice there was something special about her daughter’s work, particularly her use of color, understanding of composition, and attention span. “We thought, it’s probably because we love our baby that we think it’s so incredible how she uses color and composition,” Nikka admitted. “We thought maybe we were reading too much into what Aelita was producing, but I thought, I have to show somebody professional to see what people will say to me.”
Nikka showed the paintings to a curator at the Brunswick Street Gallery, who agreed to feature the works in a group exhibition before ever learning Aelita’s age. Though he was surprised to discover that a 22-month-old artist created the paintings, he was still willing to showcase Aelita’s work.
“I think an artwork speaks for itself; who created it is irrelevant,” said Nikka, who intentionally withheld Aelita’s age from the curator. “Whether it appeals to you or does not appeal to you, art should be totally democratic—at least for the creator.”
Since this initial show, Aelita’s paintings have attracted an international following with exhibitions held in several cities including Melbourne, Hong Kong, Tuscany, London, and New York, with selected works chosen for private collections housed in Tokyo, Moscow, Vienna, Rome, and more.
New York holds a special place in Aelita’s heart after she first traveled to the city for her solo exhibition, The Prodigy of Color, which ran in June 2011 at Agora. With two follow up shows, Cosmos and Secret Universe, it seems the city’s art scene has also embraced the young artist’s work.
“Aelita approaches painting with a stealth-like determination of a more mature painter coupled with innocence and the abandonment of preconceived notions that often dictate outcome, and yet the outcome is always perfect,” says Angela Di Bello, Gallery Director at Agora.
“I think New York is very important because it has embraced modern art from the beginning,” Nikka said. “But for Aelita, she fell in love with New York. She absolutely adores Central Park.”
Not surprisingly, Aelita’s interests are hardly those one might expect of a six-year-old. She has watched countless documentaries on cosmology, astronomy, and paleontology and counts David Attenborough and Carl Sagan among her heroes. Currently being homeschooled, Aelita remarked, “They are the best teachers in the world.” Her deep fascination with these sciences is reflected in the nature of her paintings, which depict narratives relating to cosmos, galaxies, and dinosaurs.
Aelita usually explains the narrative behind her paintings as she is creating them. In the case of her 2012 work Paleontologists Footprint Dinosaurs Nesting Grounds, which she primed with a coat of paint partially applied by her feet, Aelita insists she was a paleontologist leaving her footprint on the canvas. Interesting use of tools and found objects adds a surrealist element to the otherwise abstract expressionist style of her work. Small details and indiscriminate marks can easily be overlooked, but often they play an important role in the story Aelita is trying to convey.
“She explains as she paints, ‘they are not just smears, but they are force fields hiding herbivores from carnivores’,” said Nikka of Aelita’s process. “When she’s painting, she’ll point, ‘the mother lays her eggs here’.”
In her free time, Aelita practices ballet and gymnastics and is learning how to play the piano and violin. A great penchant for attention and enthusiasm for communicating with people have instilled in Aelita a love of performance.
“She really loves being on stage dancing and singing,” Nikka said. “At one point, we went to a concert and I had to really keep her from running on the stage. She probably would have if I hadn’t kept her really hard, because she really was trying to run on stage and perform.”
Despite her remarkable success and sophisticated interests, her parents insist, “she is just a normal kid.”
“I love swimming, running, and playing,” Aelita said.
While she has experienced considerable success in her young career, skeptics question whether Aelita truly deserves her place in the art world believing her work to be either derivative or influenced by her parents. Others—who have compared Aelita to the likes of Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollack—claim there is an uplifting innocence and honesty about her paintings that is not often found in adult works.
Part of what makes Aelita’s work original is her lack of formal training. Because she has not been educated in the traditional principles and theories of art, Aelita is utterly innocent in her practice. The colors and found objects she chooses to use on her canvases are organic, influenced only by her imagination and fascinations. “I choose colors because of their beauty,” Aelita said. “The rainbow galaxies in space inspire me to paint—even the spiral galaxies [because] of their color and abstraction. The first time I saw a star, I wanted to paint because I learned that stars are beautiful planets and galaxies.”
“My biggest fear is that someone will interfere and teach my child the conventional way to paint,” Nikka said. “This is a very wrong approach, because I think she needs to express herself.”
Aelita’s artwork is reflective of her fearless spirit, self-belief, and energy—childlike qualities many abandon in adulthood. While it was Aelita’s initial curiosity in her father’s materials that got her started in painting, it is certainly her liveliness and persistence in the practice of art that are promising of a long-term passion. The young artist proves that she should be taken seriously and judged on the merits of her work, not her age. Aelita is no longer observing the art world from the seat of her stroller—she is now one of the youngest professionals in an industry many considered off-limits to children.
When Rebecca Thomas took the stage at the IFC Theatre on March 4th for the New York City premiere of her first feature film Electrick Children, there was no lengthy thank you speech or superfluous explanation for what the audience was about to see. She uttered softly into the microphone, “I’m so nervous right now.” The audience responded with endearing laughter and applause.
A few days later, Thomas met with me to discuss the film at a bustling café in the West Village. The 28-year-old director, who might appear timid at first, offered a beaming smile and a quietly confident tone that makes her as engaging as she is relatable. Thomas seemed both relieved and exhausted after nearly a year of promoting the film, including premieres at 2012 Berlinale Film Festival and South by Southwest before it reached NYC.
“I feel like I’ve aged a lot since making the movie. I have so many grey hairs now I have to pull them out every morning,” she joked lightheartedly, sipping some tea.
For the last two years, Thomas had been consistently at work on writing and directing Electrick Children, her first feature-length film. The film tells the story of Rachel, a 15-year-old fundamentalist Mormon girl who believes she has experienced an immaculate conception after listening to a forbidden rock & roll tape. While Thomas was raised as a mainstream Mormon, the film is hardly an endorsement or reflection of her particular religious tenants. Instead, it proves to be a coming-of-age story more about a love for music and the power of faith—which Thomas and her protagonist Rachel both explore in individual ways.
Although Thomas began writing a rough version of the script before attending film school at Columbia University in 2011, it was a photography course she took during her final semester that inspired her to direct her first feature.
“The class was taught by a great photographer named Thomas Roma, who would take our photographs and tell us why they sucked and how we didn’t have enough courage,” Thomas laughed. “I was inspired by that class to gain the courage to want to say something.
By this point, Thomas had already completed several short films, the first of which “Nobody Knows You and Nobody Gives a Damn”—which she wrote and acted in—went to Sundance Film Festival in 2009.
“I already knew the consequences of having a short go to a festival and didn’t really want to do it again,” said Thomas. “If I was going to spend money, I was going to try to make a feature.”
After Thomas invited her friend Jessica Caldwell on as executive producer, the two began actively trying to fund the film via Kickstarter in May 2011.
“We thought we’d make it for $20,000 by raising half on Kickstarter and each taking out $5,000 loans,” said Thomas. “We planned to make this low budget film with help from our friends and if it totally fails, we figured we already had $175,000 in grad school loans, so what’s the difference adding another few thousand? We just said, “let’s do this.”
Caldwell randomly sent the link to executive producer Richard Neudstadter, whom she had previously met at an audition and was stunned when he personally contributed a quarter of the film’s total budget. Thomas followed up by sending the script to Neudstadter, who saw potential in the young director and offered to help make the film for a higher budget.
Virtually overnight, the micro-budget project between friends developed into a million dollar production thanks to an angel investor. “We were super lucky, it was like a miracle. Basically, a bunch of money fell into my lap and I was feeling a lot of faith. I thought, ‘I really love this story, I would have made it with or without money.’ ”
Thomas chose to keep much of the original production crew in tact, including her sister-in-law, Tennille Olsen and her brother, Will Thomas, who served as 1st and 2nd assistant cameras respectively. One major addition, however, was casting director Adrienne Stern who would help Thomas secure a star cast to bring her characters and her script to life.
“I couldn’t believe I was making a film with more crew and more talent than I could ever have imagined,” said Thomas. “It was so magical, I was already happy on the first day.”
One of the first auditions Stern and Thomas received was from veteran actor Billy Zane who earned the role of Paul—Rachel’s father and leader of the colony. Zane, who has worked with notables like James Cameron on Titanic and Robert Zemeckis on Back to the Future, claims that Thomas had an approach to directing that was all her own.
“Rebecca has the director gene,” said Zane. “She has the vision and confidence of relaxed specificity shared by few established directors I've had the great pleasure of working with.”
Liam Aiken, who previously starred alongside Susan Sarandon in Stepmom and as Klaus Baudelaire in The Series of Unfortunate Events, was cast as Mr. Will—Rachel’s rigidly obedient older brother who undergoes arguably the most drastic character transformation.
The other lead male role of Clyde—a struggling misfit who falls for Rachel—went to Rory Culkin, who Caldwell specifically suggested for the role. “I looked him up and thought he was perfect,” said Thomas. “So, we offered him the part and he said yes.”
Ironically, the film’s protagonist was the very last to be cast. Thomas and Stern had seen auditions from several hopefuls but none quite fit the specific image the director had for Rachel’s character. Julia Garner, the doe-eyed blonde indie actress, snagged the leading role just a week before production began.
“After seeing Julia Garner, I can’t remember who I imagined playing Rachel before,” said Thomas, “Julia has this sort of ethereal quality; she just kind of glows, she’s just very virginal and angel-like. When I saw her, I thought, ‘That’s it, that’s what I need!’ ”
While Julia Garner has landed several supporting roles in indie hits like Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Electrick Children marks the 19-year-old actress’s first starring role. Even though she did not have much time to prepare for her role, Garner said Thomas “immediately put her at ease” and was able to effectively communicate her vision for the role of Rachel.
“She is one of those directors who can direct anybody—she has a true gift,” Garner said. “I never felt when working with her that she was a first time director. She has an inner confidence and a natural ability to guide and direct her actors, yet always gives them freedom.”
Even though the mood on set was positive and synergetic, Thomas admits that initially it was nerve-wracking to work with such an experienced cast for her first feature.
“It was overwhelming to be working with a cast had years and years on me, in terms of experience,” said Thomas. “I was nervous everyday, to say the least, but I felt like there was a lot of love on set. Rory said to me once—the nicest thing someone’s ever said to me—‘I wish we could make this movie every year.’ ”
The loving atmosphere between cast and crew during shooting had to do with the emotion of the film and its protagonist’s story. “I think everybody sort of felt it,” said Thomas. “That’s what the movie is about; while there’s something dark boiling under, I do think Rachel’s perspective is so faithful and so loving. I hope I get to make another film and have it be as loving.”
Ultimately, Electrick Children tells the story of a young girl’s first experiences with love and music—discoveries that inspire a more organic understanding of her faith. Growing up as a fairly obedient Mormon child, Thomas found music to be a viable source of rebellion, which also became the driving idea behind the plot to her film. She recalls overhearing her older siblings’ choice punk and hip-hop music from a young age, an experience that partially inspired Rachel’s fascination with the forbidden cassette player in the film.
“I probably heard music that I shouldn’t have been listening to at a much earlier age because I shared a room with my sister,” said Thomas. “Hearing it when I was really little did give me big emotions—similar emotions as when I sang hymns in church.”
Rachel’s experience with listening to the music on the forbidden blue tape and the succeeding events drove her to question her faith, but never stray from it. Thomas has, too, wrestled with her faith in a similar manner. Asked if she was still a practicing Mormon, Thomas admits, “I don’t really know is probably the answer that is most accurate.” She added, “I still believe in God and can’t deny some of my experiences in that area.”
Although Thomas is already writing her next film—a doppelganger thriller set in New York City about a girl who meets her exact lookalike, Miss New York—she maintains a strong connection to the film that has solidified her as a serious director.
“Even though I still feel very connected to the film, it is much easier to talk about now that it is coming out in theaters,” admitted Thomas. “I feel less attached to it, but in that way, I’m almost more open about it.”
The initial script she had written for the film over four years ago now seems like a hazy, distant memory. Thomas cannot exactly recall how she originally envisioned the film, but she is genuinely happy with the outcome.
“Everything happened so fast that I sort of had this blind boldness, this courage,” said Thomas. “It almost feels like I haven’t made a film, like I’m about to make my first film because now I know all the mistakes I’ve made—somehow it all miraculously turned into something better than I could have imagined.”
Gabriel Specter had just returned from Mexico City when I met him at his Bedstuy studio. He had spent that last few weeks working with curator and arts organizer Gonzalo Alvarez, taking part in one of his projects to create a mural on the facade of an abandoned wheat factory in the city. Though boxes containing stencils and other materials lay unpacked, Specter was already at work on his latest piece, a floor-to-ceiling painting depicting what he jokingly called the “plaid gang,” a collage of five torsos dressed in various checked shirts.
“A lot of the time when we look at others, we can size each other up by what we are wearing. When you travel abroad and you expect everyone is going to be wearing indigenous clothing; but in all reality, the only people wearing that sort of clothing are those preserving their culture or are specific to a certain region,” Specter explained. “This one is about Bushwick—I think I’ll call it ‘Bushwick Plaid.’ ”
Internationally known for his original hand-painted style of street art, Specter has travelled to Europe, Russia, and Latin America to create the striking outdoor paintings and murals he has become recognized for. Unique for it realistic qualities and vivid use of color, Specter’s work usually depicts people and other objects involved in mundane daily activities and might be overlooked by an undiscerning eye—a painted façade of a bodega, recycled bottles stacked by a dumpster, a delivery man with a cart of boxes, and boy on his bike.
“Most people don’t notice they are paintings; they look like another bodega window or some discarded glass bottles,” Specter said. “They don’t event think about it, so they just pass by. But some realize, there’s a wrinkle to it, or that it’s distorted. I’d see them go up and touch it, just super puzzled. Then they might start to think, ‘Why did someone put this here? What does it have to do with me.’ ”
Other pieces, like a portrait of a holy-like Muhammad Ali framed in a wreath of flowers or a standing three-sided mural illustrating memories from senior citizens in Flatbush, are harder to ignore.
As a 16 year-old living in Montreal, he became enthralled in the underground graffiti scene. Heavily influenced by a classmate who was a “tagger,” Specter grew to like the thrill of leaving his mark on the city. He actively tagged city walls and buildings for about a year before discovering an emerging sub-genre of graffiti that would soon capture his full attention.
“I started to realize that people were doing a lot more than tagging,” Specter said. “They were drawing and creating murals—there was so much more than putting your name up and working with letters. You could really do what you wanted.”
Although he later enrolled as an art student, Specter found he was drawn more to the wall than he was to the canvas. Street art offered a viable way for Specter reconcile the appreciation he had for fine art and the thrill he got from doing graffiti. Considering himself somewhat of a “public artist,” Specter enjoys creating works of art that can be enjoyed outside the confines of a gallery.
“I love getting to ordinary people,” Specter said. “When you do something indoors, there’s always something written about, there’s always an explanation, and there’s always an expectation that it really does mean something. Whereas I think in public, people are less sort of grasping for the meaning of something and more just interpreting it into their own subconscious or consciously talking about it.”
Counting New York City graffiti duo Cost and Revs among his earliest influences, Specter shares their same preference for anonymity. He believes that, at its heart, street art should give passersby the opportunity to decipher the work for themselves without imposing any sort of superfluous context—even something so basic as an artist’s credit.
“I like that I get to drop out of the picture, which might have something to do with my appearance—I’m very tall, have red hair and have a loud boisterous voice sometimes, so I’m a pretty noticeable individual,” Specter admitted. “I like to sort of not be seen.”
This penchant for subtlety has become central to Specter’s working philosophy for a couple reasons: First, the piece has a better chance for longevity when it’s less noticeable and second, it draws viewers in for a closer, more critical look.
“The loudest stuff I don’t want to know about because it’s just berating my mind,” Specter said. “When the piece is more incorporated into its surroundings, fewer people will get it, but those who do are going to be more likely to form a thought about it and wonder why it’s there, what the hell it is.”
One of his most extensive projects, “Gentrification Billboards” involved four separate street works that visually rendered the changing social landscapes and tensions consuming Brooklyn, particularly Bushwick and Bedstuy. The Museum of Contemporary African and Diaspora Art commissioned the series to advertise its latest exhibit “The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks.” Intentionally adopting traditional styles of advertisement like movie posters and grocery catalogues, Specter’s works dealt with such issues as eminent domain, rising food and living costs, and the construction of high-rise condominiums in a way that was both unexpected and subversive.
“There was one piece called ‘Caucasian Invasion,’ that was done in the style of the 1970s Black Dynamite movie posters, which always had these funny black characters who kick serious ass,” Specter said. “It was the opposite of that, these white people coming in and kicking peoples’ asses. Some people got really mad about that, which was the point. I was funny about it to disperse a little bit of the anger, but the issue is a very serious one. I wanted to get the idea out there and get people discussing gentrification.”
With the popularization of street art over the last five years, Specter has seen a significant departure from this way of thinking. Many young artists take to the streets with hopes of becoming recognized as the next great street art sensation. He has noticed that most work on the street has since become more graphically driven, lacking a solid conceptual foundation or purpose.
“It’s become more about doing the freshest, coolest thing, but it’s almost like an ad at the point; so, it loses a bit of its soul,” Specter said. “The initial illegality of street art showed a lot of character for those who were willing to put themselves at risk to go do stuff that they weren’t really ever going to be able to take credit for.”
When Specter was growing up in the 1980s and 90s, he was never lured by the prospects of fame and financial gain because there was none to be had. Pre-Internet, street artists had very few viable ways to legitimize and exhibit their work within the contexts of the art industry. And this is the beauty of the foundation of street art: a portion of the industry that people like Specter still find exhilarating.
“It is definitely good for the culture because it has given street artists this opportunity they never would have had before,” Specter said. “Pre-Internet, there wasn’t a market for it. You couldn’t take your portfolio to a gallery and interest them in seeing it. Through its popularization, it really allowed street art to become more accepted within the art industry.”
Specter recognizes that, in part, this growing appreciation for street art in the mainstream has allowed artists to make careers out of a practice that they would have been arrested for a few years ago, let alone paid to do. “I’m lucky,” Specter admitted. “I’ve been able to succeed in calling myself a street artist—it’s become how I make my cash, that’s how I’ve been living.”
He does, however, identify that one of the biggest issues of the growing number of so-called street artists is the tendency for the industry to force them all into one category when qualities like craftsmanship, concept, and effort can vary greatly from artist to artist.
“I still hand paint everything, whereas a lot of street art images are photocopies,” Specter said. “I think that’s fine, but for me—because I am so invested in the actual space and the people who perceive it—I really want it to be one of a kind for them; I want them to experience something that a lot of work and thought went into. It’s something that you would find in a gallery or be professionally paid for, but it just happens to be free in a space where nothing was before.”
This idea of using space in a way that is constructive and relative to the community in which he is working is of foremost priority for the artist. Particularly aware and receptive to his surroundings, Specter scouts spaces while walking or riding his bike through various neighborhoods, often revisiting them several times before finalizing his vision. Generally he prefers to be influenced by the environment, allowing the location to inform the layout and subject matter of the piece, rather than searching for an ideal spot.
“What most artists do is if they see one street art guy did something, they put it right next to it thinking, ‘that lasted long, so mine will, too,’ ” Specter said. “I don’t want my work to just be next to someone else’s, just so it will last; I still want it to have this point, this real story.”
Specter soon started to notice several abandoned storefronts and decided to develop ideas for project that would transform these locations. The “Sign Project” became a long-term initiative in which Specter handcrafted signs and installed them on the dilapidated storefronts. “Say you have an abandoned store that’s gone through five different hands in the last ten years, it’s got layers of culture and history in it. I just began to notice all those different subtleties to it, the different textures. From there, I was sort of stuck on it and had to put it in my work.”
He rebranded an out-of-business hardwood flooring shop in Toronto, changing its name to read “Gentrification Since 1997.” Another storefront earned the new name “Mom” because of the timeliness of Mother’s Day and dusty fake flowers in the window.
“A couple years after I did the ‘Mom’ storefront, I got an email from this girl who said, ‘My friends and I talked about it forever, like what’s the Mom store? What’s in the Mom store?’ ” Specter said. “Finally, she looked at my website and realized that it was a piece of art. She was just blown away; all this thought that went into it was validated because she figured it out. I love that kind of thing when people really question why something is there.”
Tell me about Occulter.
Occulter began as sort of a—it was always meant to be a collective idea. Essentially, me and a bunch of friends, designers like Odenbach and Marvie from Marvielab, she was related to Carpe Diem. A lot of these people wanted to promote their lines or collections or their work—pretty concept-heavy work — on their own, outside of sort of the mercantile fashion systems we have. As an experiment, we started showing in Paris by just renting an apartment and showing as a group. I called it Occulter. Johannes Kepler was an astronomer hundreds of years ago. He was very intent on the cosmos being this perfect machine, because he was both a scientist and very devout; so, he wanted everything to be reflective of where he thought God was. He wanted everything to be a perfect circle and when he found out it wasn’t, it kind of drove him crazy. It was perfect in a different way than he had expected. It got me to thinking and looking more into extrasolar planet research. Somehow that got me to what an occulter is—which has nothing to do with the occult as everyone assumes that right away. The logo itself is a drawing by Johannes Keppler of concentric platonic solids, which are the basic building blocks of geometry. An occulter is this thing that NASA was building in order to put out in space in front of really large in-orbit telescopes; so, [an occulter] would hide the brightness of a large body and you’d be able to see everything around it. Say, it would hide Jupiter and you could see the moons around it. I thought, that’s perfect, we never want to be giant brands, it is not the mission. The goal isn’t to be Jupiter. The point is to control the design so that it does not get exploited and watered down. We never want to be Jupiter, we always want to be the moons of Jupiter. Occulter became the shield that hides the big brands; so, you can see the little ones. I’ve been working here [in this studio] for about six years. Now, the collective consists of three visual artists, Nadav Benjamin, Jeremy Dyer, and Gabriel Shuldiner. The accessories designers are Jonathan, who does Bevel, Moratorium, my stuff, and Gabriel also does accessories that resemble his paintings.
Your own line, Black Sheep and Prodigal Sons, seems to be heavily influenced by mythology and nature. What specifically about those areas speak to you?
There’s a funny thing going on right now and I want to try to avoid it. When I started doing Black Sheep and Prodigal Sons, it was like seven years ago, it was a while back. It was really different back then. Even the name, people were like, “This is ridiculous. It’s too long and it’s too weird. Why don’t you just call it like ‘The Sheeps’ or whatever?” And I was like, “No, this is what it’s going to be. I don’t care, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it.” Before you know it—and I’m not saying it was my doing, but perhaps I was just in the stream of the zeitgeist in a way—it became the thing to do, to be dark, and occult-y. I find it super interesting. In my head, I’m sort of an anthropologist, a sociologist. I’m always trying to figure out why, why is it that this is appealing to folks?
I think, for me, it had to do with personal meaning and the idea that mythology is what creates meaning in life, and conviction, and substance. Growing up in Puerto Rico, there was a lot of really intuitive interpolation of mythology from our background, which is African and Indian, and a little bit of European. It turns into something very emotional for Latin American people. It just seems very natural. I don’t know why; maybe because the cultures are really young so they just allow themselves to be influenced by everything. Whereas, when I moved to the United States to come to school, [mythology-related themes] were being regurgitated and it seemed very shallow. And it’s fine, because I think sometimes, even at that point, maybe it’ll turn into something. My only fear is that it will be treated like another trend, it’ll be a flash in the pan, and then we’ll forget the use of it; or perhaps maybe it will have some gripping power and people will be like, “Oh, well what is our mythology?”
What do you mean when you talk about pop culture as our mythology?
We love to put it in our mouths, chew it, spit it out, and never absorb the nutrients. Next. What’s that one taste like? It’s not about processing any of it; it’s about tasting it. It’s all about the instant gratification of the taste but not what it takes to make it part of you. It’s a habit of following and trying to find substance in acquisition of things; so, I think we do have [a mythology] except for the Gods at be are very far removed from us. We don’t have communion with the Gods like a Native American would in a Shamanic ritual. Our gods are so far from us and everything we are consuming is thrown from the clouds, and we just kind of eat it and don’t question it. That’s the only dangerous part for me. Yes, there is mythology and yes, it is affecting us every single day because we are worshipping these ways of consuming to the point of almost creating a religion out of them. We have very religious attitudes, but the God is missing.
I guess the gods would have to be the ad men and PR professionals.
Exactly. The gods are missing. We don’t know who they are or what they look like, but we worship the stuff they are doing.
That’s interesting. As a media student, we discuss advent of public relations and the ethics of using psychoanalytic theories to facilitate consumerism.
It’s about creating an insatiable desire. “I want it and I have to have it and I’m going to get another one, too. And the moment I get it, it’s old, it’s done, I need another one.” I think that speaks to the way we consume information these days, as well. We have very shallow understandings of lots of things. Everybody knows everything. [laughs]. But not that much about it. I don’t know if I’m any different…
I think we are all part of it, but we have a choice. We just have to figure out whether or not we can handle the repercussions of making the choice, which are potentially being shunned. The moment you express
a very convicted opinion, you don’t get as many "likes". If you’re too convicted, you’re choosing sides and that takes a lot of effort.
People love to be neutral.
Cool is the mass. Anyway, I’ve forgotten what the original question was. These are the kind of discussions everyone here [at Occulter] talks about; always trying to find that balance between commerce and
authenticity. Sometimes, one fails the other. Authenticity and strong convictions might cause you to lose some business. It happens. You hate to make choices [but] I still have to eat, so what’s going to happen?
I feel like Occulter has a lot of integrity behind it. From speaking with you, looking at the pieces, and even the branding, I sense it.
You know what’s funny about the branding—I did all the logos, I designed it all myself. I was trying to get to a place where it felt like it always existed to me. I made the stuff and later I realized why I chose those fonts and why I chose those details. It wasn’t as contrived as branding usually is for me—I used to work in advertising for a while.
That is kind of ironic.
Yeah, I was in advertising. But when it’s personal, I don’t want to be as contrived about branding, doing what I know will get a reaction; so, I tried to work from instinct, kind of work backwards. I realized later that the Black Sheep and Prodigal Sons font—the reason I thought it felt so right and established is because it’s the headline font for the New York Times. We associate that with legitimacy, authenticity, and truth. I was like, “Weird.” It just came together. The other font, Baskerville, which I used for the Occulter logo, was one of the first fonts used in print, ever. No wonder this stuff feels like it’s set in stone. I think branding is very important.
When did you get into making jewelry?
When I started Black Sheep and Prodigal Sons. That was in 2005. That’s when I was getting sick of advertising. Somehow, as soon as I graduated from school, I ended up in an advertising agency. I was an art director, but it was hell the whole time through. It wasn’t for me because I always wanted to make something that wasn’t what they wanted me to make. I always took is as being “the man.” Now that I’m a little older, I’ve realized it’s not a democracy. An ad agency is not America, it’s a private company and they want you to do something and they’re paying you for it; so, you need to do it. That’s one of the best things that one boss told me, that I will always remember: “This is not a democracy, Derrick. This is my company.” I was like, “Ohh yeah! I get it. Sorry, I was trying to change it, but I can’t change it.” I felt I needed to be doing something else, it was too much and it was not my thing. I went home, quit cold turkey. I started sculpting stuff because I didn’t have much room to paint, and then jewelry making started coming about. I wanted to make things that you could carry with you, not art that you always had to have a show for. So, jewelry seemed like the right thing.
How do you distinguish your work from that of these other brands that pop up and latch onto the trend?
I don’t want to knock it. I want to critique, I don’t want to criticize. Or perhaps it’s critique versus passing judgment. I’d rather have a critique, which is a conversation. I think the way the work of the collective differentiates itself is that we have some tenants we ascribe to that we will not waiver from, including quality of materials, flexibility for experimentation, and, like I said before, authenticity. Always maintaining a very personal connection to who they are to the point that you may not like it. I may not be the right time for it. It may be ugly. [Laughs.] We run a lot of risk a lot of times. I think that’s probably a good description of it. What separates it from a lot of other things is the lack of fear for risk. We don’t fear risk. That’s okay. I don’t care if you don’t like, I mean I care if you don’t like it, but you probably won’t. And that’s okay because I’m not sure if I like it either yet. I may make a piece and develop it over a time, but you have to hang on and invest a little bit in it so you can watch it develop. That freedom to be risky and always assuming your audience is smarter than you may think. Which opposes the mentality of advertising and PR men to simplify everything. When I left advertising, I thought I’ve got to change this. I’m going to flip it and say, “No, they’re smarter than me.” I’m going to speak that way and I will make the paragraphs that references Gestalt or psychology, and assume that someone is going to know it. And if they don’t know it, nowadays you look it up and then you’ll
come back and say, “I get it.” Suddenly, you have an investment in it.
That’s a good approach. It gives people the opportunity to discover new ideas and interests and potentially grow from them.
It’s fun to share knowledge. I think a small company—which lately I’m calling nano-companies because a small company, according to the government, is a company with 500 people, at least. This is not a small company, this is a nano-company. There’s like 3 of us and mostly it’s just me here and the designers come in and out. The opportunity that we have, that a big organization doesn’t have, is to teach. Big organizations don’t have the opportunity to teach because they have too many things to protect. They have patents to protect and proprietary information to protect and things that are coming out to protect. And there’s just too much, too much investment and too much risk involved; so, they’re not going to tell you how to do it, they’re not going to tell you every piece about it, they’re not going to start selling it the minute that you made it because they have to PR. It’s a big system. So, for us, we can teach. We can be like, “Let me tell you more about how this is made or more about where the design came from.” I’ve even brought people in here and been like, “If you want to learn how to do this, I’ll show you how to do it.” You don’t feel threatened. It’s the Bobby Flay approach, I call it. Because you’re going to show them how too cook it, but they’re still going to go to your restaurant. It never stops people from going to Mesa, just because he had a TV show where he showed you how to cook.
What does the Occulter collective strive to communicate through their work?
To create a sense of wonder or marvel. Like, “This is crazy!” or “What is that?” It’s that childlikeness that we try so hard to push back. So, here is the childlikeness with a black robe on. It’s a child on stilts with a black robe on. That is what this is. I want to appeal to that repressed desire for wonder and marvel. I think everyone else here does, too, through the materials they use, the way they sculpt things, the detail they put in. I think Bevel’s work and his exploration of the human condition is interesting. Tell me more about him. His name is Jonathan and he’s a very spiritual person. I always say 90% of his day involves trying to reach a different plane, to the point it’s almost comical, because it’s so different and he’s such a different person. He’s a super gentle person. He doesn’t actually come off as anything in particular; he only comes off as Jonathan. He’s a very individual person. My point is that what he did for the Ball Game collection was try to explore his own vision of Mayan myth from where he came from, from his perspective. One particular myth is about these heroes that go to the underworld to try to recover control over the Earth. What he did was, he sort of sculpted the characters for the story, abstractly, and so, he could understand what it was about. How he came out the other end was understanding that his culture was very much one of resilience. Where he came from, their stories were about resilience of people and collective work. I thought, that’s obviously a study on the human condition and very personal to come out with something so abstract. There’s something so beautiful about his designs, but they manage to be terrifying at the same time. There is something terrifying about them. To me, it’s very other. This doesn’t look like anything. I’m like, “Where is this from?” Do you feel that our culture, in turning to shortcuts and simple answers, largely neglects the journey? It’s funny. Every philosophy that you go into deeply, the journey is the valuable thing. It’s not the answer. The journey is the answer. We sort of skip that. We tend to think the answer is the answer, but there is no answer. What you find in New York, you—especially at your age—will evolve really quickly and change really fast. And from every couple years, you’ll change again.
I hear you become a new person every seven years.
Here it happens, quicker sometimes. Your peers that are not here are going to have a little bit of a hard time with that. They’re going to look at you and judge you and they’re going to be like, “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
It seems a lot of people are okay with being complacent and not challenging themselves.
Okay with good enough. The amount of things you can do in a year here is crazy. It makes life seem longer because you’re experiencing a lot more. Everyday your brain is opened up to new things. One of the reasons I called the company Black Sheep and Prodigal Sons is because I was reading a book about the West Village called Kafka Was the Rage. It was set in the 1940s. This guy moved from Brooklyn after coming back from the war, moved to West Village. He met all these weird people. There was this building full of old ladies, drug addicts, and all these people. He was like, “they were black sheep and prodigal sons or a paradoxical kind.” They were either shunned by family or shunned family and came here to redeem themselves or remake themselves. I was like, that’s it. That’s the name, because that’s most of the people I know. They come to this place looking to bloom out. They either were thrown out of the house or they left. It was really about New York.
Sawdust covered the floors, fixtures and clothing racks were yet to be built, the walls stark white and bare. It was late May when three friends began construction on the Williamsburg shop, a soon-to-be home for their budding label, Ferris. Offering custom garments tailored from either raw fabrics or a combination of rare vintage pieces, Ferris caters to the client who seeks an urban aesthetic and one-of-one design. That is exactly the idea behind Ferris’ maxim: Surveyors, Purveyors, Makers, and Redeemers. While the three keep a close eye on emerging street wear trends and strive to supply the demands of their clients, they agree that maintaining a healthy appetite for rebellion is key to the Ferris mission. Drawing inspiration from other art forms including skating culture, rap music, and more, Ferris—more than a clothing brand—is a lifestyle.
Taylor Conlin, the label’s head tailor, felt perfectly at home in the modestly sized, two level building, which would soon operate as a retail store, custom design studio, and living space for two-thirds of the Ferris team. In the backroom, a small space crammed with dress forms and cardboard boxes overflowing with vintage samples, Conlin's eyes lit up as he pulled a part Japanese denim, part suede patchwork jacket from one of the boxes and draped it on a form.
“The back of this piece is made from old pennant flags stitched together,” he explained enthusiastically, running his finger across the reinforced seams. “I haven’t seen anyone else doing anything like this jacket.”
A mere two months later, the shop was complete and open for business. Located on Berry Street between Grand and North 1st Street, Ferris features rustic wooden décor and a large neon sign emblazoned with the brand's logo. Walk in on any given day greeted by Frank Sinatra's smooth vocals and the faint sound of skateboards hitting pavement outside. Perhaps even more impressive than the shop's seemingly overnight transformation is the ambition and passion of the boys behind it all.
In early 2011, Conlin left Loyola Marymount University and returned home to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he began making jackets on his own. After relocating to New York City the following summer, he met AJ Livingston at a house party. A San Diego native attending school at New York University, Livingston found that he and Taylor shared similar goals and they exchanged numbers.
“I was debating whether or not to hit him up,” said Livingston. “I thought, ‘screw it, I'll call him. I don't have any friends out here anyway.’ ”
Within a week after their initial meeting, Ferris was born.
Both highly driven and passionate individuals, Conlin and Livingston also shared like-minded sensibilities toward designing apparel that does not adhere to the status quo. “I knew I needed someone else,” said Conlin. “Once I met AJ, then we were a serious company. We teamed up and started working almost immediately.”
After Livingston brought in longtime friend Taylor Spong to assist with constructing the shop and marketing the label, the trio formed a collective of artists, musicians, and skaters devoted to making one-of-a-kind clothing with attention to quality and detail. “Like the wheel that goes around and around, we take old clothing, strip it down, and give it new life,” Conlin added.
The very namesake of the brand alludes to a healthy, youthful sense of disobedience and adventure. “We got the name from the Ferris wheel and also from Ferris Bueller,” explained Livingston. “Both, to us, represent ideas of youth and continuity.”
These ideas are the motivating force behind some of Conlin’s earliest tailoring work. With each of his designs, he seeks to achieve something novel and meaningful, even if that means pissing some people off. “My first jacket, I cut up an American flag and a lot of people had a problem with that,” said Conlin. “To me, it is more patriotic to wear it on my back then to hang it outside my house.”
Always striving to push the boundaries of custom design doesn’t come without making some mistakes along the way—luckily, Ferris embraces imperfection. “It’s not perfect because I haven’t had that formal training,” admitted Conlin, “but part of the process is making mistakes. I’m okay with fucking up because I am learning and trying to perfect my skills.”
Spong, who assists Conlin on the sewing machine, considers the unexpected similarities between skating and creating a new design. “When you go out skating and you don’t know where you’re headed,” he began, “you might find this sick spot no one else knows about. In making clothes, you also have these moments of discovery.”
Ferris relies on niche details to set them apart from other street wear brands. Both a blessing and a curse, limited financial and material resources encourage the boys to think more creatively by simply working with what they have. “Even if we wanted to do what everyone else was doing, we couldn’t,” said Livingston. “We just use what we can get and, in the process, we’re creating one-of-a-kind pieces.”
Conlin points out a vest made from an old pair of jeans and shirt as a prime example of this ingenuity. “I found these jeans I wore in high school and they fuckin’ smelled terrible,” said Conlin. “After I gave them a thorough wash, I combined them with this flannel I used to wear to make this patchwork vest. I called it ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ ”
Ferris’ grungy quality is not an artificial put-on to lure hipsters and hypebeasts, but rather a reflection of the boys’ rugged lifestyles as skaters, surfers, and artists. “We’re just a bunch of rats,” Livingston joked.
In addition to their custom pieces and graphic t-shirt line, the Ferris boys are committed to stocking the shop with genuine vintage clothing handpicked from various warehouses. “Real vintage is not about taking an old American-made 50s work wear piece and then making it in China,” said Conlin. “What’s good about the foundation of our business is that such a system won’t make sense for us because we’ll always have custom.”
“That’s the cool factor,” added Livingston, “We plan to expand from our basic selection of graphic tees, hats, and beanies to include more wide-scale production of cut-and-sew items, but the custom stuff is never going to be part of that line, it’s part of the brand.”
A personal friend of the boys, professional skater Tom Remillard and Livingston met as “drinking buddies from the same skateboarding crowd in San Diego.” Placing in the top 10 at this year’s XGames Park, the 21-year-old has donned logos of some of the most relevant brands in the industry, but believes Ferris brings something different to the table. "The foundation of Ferris is very unique compared to other brands and this is something I see holding true in the future as well,” said Remillard. “With most things that are unique, there is usually success."
Perusing the racks, it’s clear that most completed custom pieces are usually the hybrid of three or four vintage garments. A closer look at a mid-weight Woolrich vest reveals black, acid-washed denim detailing and branding from a vintage Nike Flight sweater, as well as a subtle camouflage print obscured by red mesh. On a shelf resting overhead the racks, quality wool caps bearing a simple Ferris logo are on display alongside custom-made leather and canvas bags produced by international label Property Of. The glass cabinet in the counter showcases vintage eyewear and jewelry by fellow NYC designer Bernard Jaems. Livingston, who is always looking for other talented designers to join the team, hopes to add more custom made accessories like hats, sunglasses, and shoes to their inventory. “Eventually, you'll be able to come here, and your wardrobe is yours—no one shares a single item in your wardrobe.”
Since debuting in the United States in late 2010, AllSaints Spitalfields has become a staple in the hearts and wardrobes of NYC’s trendsetting youth. The British High Street retailer, well known for the pre-aged quality of its merchandise, first emerged in 1994 and steadily gained a loyal following throughout Europe. Offering clothing, shoes, and accessories—all in luxe worn-in fabrics like English cashmere, leathers and shearlings, Japanese silks and shuttle loom cottons—at entry-level prices, we can see its appeal.
For fall, AllSaints veered left from its usual collection of draped knitwear, asymmetrical bubble skirts, and fatigued leathers, presenting instead a more refined line-up of classic pieces like straight coats, relaxed blazers, and pencil skirts in razor-sharp silhouettes. While the feel of this collection is decidedly more sophisticated, the unpretentious, wearable nature of the clothing is still there. Other aspects like the impeccable construction and quality of the materials, which have become central to the brand’s mission, continue to impress.
Geared toward confident, fashion-forward women, the collection was partly inspired by the novel Venus in Furs. Slimmer and more daring silhouettes, barley-there lace tops, and tight leather mini skirts are sexy without being vulgar. Other pieces like an ombre mohair coat and a sheer cap sleeve top accented with studs and delicate chains make a lasting statement. A full line of accessories including handbags, clutches, wallets, and belts, all constructed from lush leathers and animal furs, and tastefully embellished with metallic sequins. This season’s footwear has a more timeless feel, trading in trendy distressed boots for streamlined round-toe pumps and booties. Trademark AllSaints looks like a leather biker jacket and fitted trousers are still present in the collection, but reinvented to compliment the matured aesthetic.
AllSaints menswear has also undergone a sort of metamorphosis. Forgoing grungy denim and flannel looks that characterized earlier collections, this season offers a slew of tailored suiting and sportswear. Wool coats in sharp silhouettes, slim tweed trousers, and cashmere knits are both elegant and functional. Not entirely losing the playful, rebellious quality AllSaints lads have come to love, this collection features pieces in a subdued camouflage print, accented by skinny jeans and bad-boy leather jackets.
The fresh new attitude and look of AllSaints fall collection, while not radically different from previous seasons, is one that the brand’s customers will undoubtedly come to embrace. Effortless versatility and evolved confidence are qualities that will continue to establish AllSaints as a downtown mainstay.
A fusion between utilitarian and edgy, Nudie Jeans’ fall collection offers customers the flexibility of mixing well-fitted, timeless basics to achieve an effortless look. The philosophy behind the brand is to keep things simple: wear the jeans, but don’t let the jeans wear you. With close attention to cut and detail, Nudie is a Swedish clothing brand that has long since been a fashion staple among European tastemakers and is fast developing a similar following in the US.
While the brand is primarily marketed towards men, it has attracted a considerable amount of female consumers. Nudie offers eleven fits ranging from a skinny jean aptly named the Tight Long John, to the Average Joe, a regular straight leg jean. With six washes to choose from—including Iconic Orange, a brilliant worn-in rust—Nudie offers denim lovers a wide variety of options. Because the company draws inspiration from Sweden’s rich heritage and is unconcerned with fads, the emphasis is always on fit, detail, and the wearer. With an extensive collection of outerwear, knitwear, shirting, and tops to compliment the denim line, Nudie simplifies the art of casual male dressing. A selection of fitted denim shirts and flannels in muted tones offer endless layering options, while statement looks like a plaid university jacket make for great transitional pieces. Tees, also in soft organic fabrics, are subtly distressed to achieve that vintage quality of favorite old t-shirts.
Nudie Jeans Backbone, a line of basics, is a recent addition to the brand meant to compliment the main collection. The idea behind Backbone is to bring consumers a range of knits; eleven fits and four colors accentuate the organic look of the brand’s denim. Nudie also offers a line of well-crafted denim and leather accessories, including wallets and belts in several styles. Like the organic denim, the vegetable tanned leather is designed to look and feel better with wear. Having recently opened a store in Los Angeles and currently scouting locations in New York City, Nudie is here to stay. The refreshing timelessness and quality of the line is something that will continue to expand its faithful following.
The man behind one of most mysterious acts in the music industry made his highly anticipated New York debut last night. Abel Tesfaye, more commonly known as The Weeknd, kicked off his tour with a sold out show at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg. Fresh off a two-weekend run at Coachella, Tesfaye delivered a compelling performance that proves all the buzz he’s been lapping up is anything but empty hype.
Backed by a three-piece band, the Toronto native and Drake protégé has a confidence about him that comes from weeks of rehearsal and the blinding support of a rapidly growing fan base. Unlike the outdoor stage at Coachella, last night’s venue—which holds a maximum capacity of 550 people—added a level of intimacy that seems almost necessary to fully appreciate Tesfaye’s deeply emotional lyrics and lavender vocals. Tesfaye gained momentum as the show progressed, and by the end of the night, his lyrics took on the form of a narrative, revealing peeping tom details about faded nights, regrettable encounters, and deep-seeded pains.
Not surprisingly, the Music Hall hosted to an eclectic mix of concertgoers, including gaggles of teenagers, self-serious music snobs, and even some middle-aged couples (okay, so that was surprising). Though at times off-key, the crowd sang along religiously with Tesfaye, who seemed to embrace, even encourage group sing-a-longs by pointing the microphone toward the crowd. He kicked off his set with the bass-heavy track “High for This”—cue spontaneous crowd combustion—before segueing into the aggressive “D.D.”, a well-executed rendition of Michael Jackson’s classic “Dirty Diana”. Tesfaye performed selected songs from each of the albums that make up his self-released trilogy, including House of Balloons hits “Glass Table Girls” and “The Morning.”
While he has every reason to be cocky—at 22-years-old, he is already on the festival circuit and his first ever tour sold out in a matter of hours—Tesfaye actually seems relatable and humble in a way that few other budding stars do. At one point during his set, he called out endearingly, “Frenchie, where you at?” pointing to rapper French Montana, who was seated in an overhead balcony. We also spotted a nonchalant A-Trak hanging out and chatting with crowd members. Before leaving the stage after an acoustic encore of “Wicked Games”—a track that revels in the dark and illicit hedonism that typifies The Weeknd’s sound—Tesfaye flung his hat into the crowd as a sign of gratitude to his fans. The unpretentious and intensely personal atmosphere of the show is something fans will come to cherish as Tesfaye inevitably moves onto larger venues.
We are used to seeing Chanel Iman grace the pages of Victoria’s Secret catalogs in perky, printed bra-and-panty sets, but her latest role as a femme fatale couldn’t be further from that bright and glossy image. Recently, the supermodel starred in a short fashion film directed by Jenna Elizabeth and produced by BULLETT in collaboration with accessories designer Reece Hudson.
Thirst tells a story of seduction, betrayal, and revenge. Shot on location at Lafayette House, the film captures the ghostly beauty innate to the confines of the historical hotel. After catching her lover with another woman, Iman draws a vial from her gold, snakeskin clutch and surreptitiously dispenses poison into his drink. Dim lighting and an eerie tune further emphasize the creepiness factor as Iman indiscriminately drags her stiletto heel and various surgical instruments along the skin of her unconscious lover. Statement bags and accessories created by Reece Hudson held the delicate torture devices and accentuate Iman’s daring looks.
As a director and photographer based in New York City, Jenna Elizabeth is unafraid to push boundaries. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Madonna and Andy Warhol for previous projects, her aesthetic is sensual, quirky, and organic. The granddaughter of jazz drummer Chuck Flores, Elizabeth is also fascinated by music and claims musicians are among her favorite subjects to shoot. She has worked with some of the biggest names in the business including Kanye West, Julian Casablancas, and Willie Nelson – to name a few. Thirst epitomizes the dramatic and sinister feeling evident in Elizabeth’s previous works, but certainly does not quench our desire to see what is next for the young filmmaker.
Sapir Bachar, a fashion designer based in Tel Aviv, is inspired by the duality that is inherent to cultural concepts. Her designs explore the contentions between perfection and imperfection, humor and seriousness, and past and present, just to name a few. Her unique vision, coupled with an intimate understanding of construction and textiles, makes Bachar one of the most innovative emerging designers working. For her latest collection, she drew inspiration from a series of works by British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman called “Insult to Injury.” The Chapmans used eighty original 19th century etchings from Francisco Goya’s famous “Disasters of War” series, painting over the victims’ heads with cartoonish pastel faces. Bachar was curious to examine the opposing ideas of creation and defacement, and how the two can sometimes coexist.
The result of Bachar’s well-directed curiosity is a stunning collection that includes intricately beaded bodices, luxurious furs, and patches of leopard. Instead of traditional stitched seams, Bachar makes use of small metal hook enclosures to create a suture-like effect. Silhouettes like a peplum pencil skirt and a pink leather mini layered over a red maxi inject are as playful as they are flattering. One of the collections standout looks is a dress that features a basic white crew neck on top and a paint-like printed skirt on bottom. This idea of mixing high and low, dressy and casual elements is just another quality that fascinates Bachar’s aesthetic.
Your designs emphasize duality in cultural concepts like bad taste and good taste, perfection and imperfection, and so on. How do you find equilibrium between such opposing ideas?
I feel that more than achieving an equilibrium between the two opposing ideas or cultural concepts, it’s the tension and clashing between them that make the pieces work and perhaps its the uncertainty or blurred lines – where you are not sure whether you find it ugly or beautiful, high brow or low brow etc. that create a certain balance or equilibrium.
How do you work? Do you begin with a concept and then draft designs or the other way around? What is the most challenging part of the process?
I usually start out with the initial concept and then try to expand on that by searching for visual inspiration that I feel can magnify and serve the idea. Then I start looking for materials and fabrics whilst playing around with draping, sketching and creating combinations with the materials I have found, this process is quite a long, back and forth affair, and involves a lot of trial and error, tweaking the inspiration and choices of materials. As I progress I always try to take a step back to question my choices and see the bigger picture and most importantly to make sure the idea I set out to talk about is present in the garment.
Living in Israel, conflict is something you must encounter everyday. Has this conflict between ideologies, religions, and lifestyles shaped your thinking?
Living in Israel has undoubtedly shaped the way I think, and it does have a lot to do with the examples you mentioned. What I do feel has shaped and pushed me most as a designer is that, as an Israeli, I always felt like a part of some kind of cultural or design underdog, so I always felt a need to work harder, succeed and prove myself. Also the lack of materials and fabrics available in Tel Aviv always pushed me to think outside of the box and try and be creative with the materials I chose to to convey my ideas.
With such an emphasis on opposites, how do you keep yourself from seeing things as black and white?
Like I said before, though I do use and incorporate opposites in my work, it’s the grey areas I find most interesting, the blurred lines and the tension between two worlds that wouldn’t normally go together (but somehow coexist) is what I am usually drawn to.
Where do you do your best thinking? Is there a place in Tel Aviv—or anywhere else in the world—that is a source of particular inspiration for you?
My best thinking is mostly done in the midst of the creating or designing process, alone in my work room, with the mess of fabrics and sketches around me. I never can form an idea just in theory and always have to test it out or play around with it.
Who or what is your biggest artistic inspiration?
I know this an odd pairing of artists, but it’s Francisco Goya and Sofia Coppola that I consider my biggest artistic inspirations. What I love most about them is how they both try to capture beauty and aesthetic in unconventional ways, while not being afraid to expose their own fears and vulnerability.
What is the most thrilling aspect of fashion design?
The most thrilling aspect for me is the search and discovery of unexpected combinations that come with working with materials. This is what drives my process and enables me to form the ideas I want to convey.
Your attention to detail, like your use of metal hook enclosures as seams, is innovative. How do you always ensure that you are pushing boundaries?
I am always following contemporary fashion to see what is out there and what my favorite designers are up to, it is important to me that I am updated and aware of what’s being done around me in the fashion world. In the case of the metal hooks it was derived from the concept and inspiration of the project, its an interpretation of the visual material I was working with at the time (mainly the work of Francis Bacon). I am never really sure that I am in fact pushing boundaries, but it is always very important for me to that I try.
Your work draws considerable inspiration from art and literature. How do you ground such abstract ideas in wearable pieces without crossing the line into costume-wear?
Art as inspiration has become somewhat of a necessity for my work process; however, I do always try to keep in mind the women that would wear my designs, and what she would want to wear. This usually keeps my designs in the realm of ready to wear and couture. No matter how abstract or philosophical my concepts and ideas may be it is important to me that the end result is a sexy, desirable and cool looking piece.
Your website flows sort of like a mood board—with inspiration images meshed in with those of your own designs. Would you say this is a representation of your stream of thought?
The site reflects my work process more than it does my stream of thought. It was important to me to show the inspirations and materials that led me on my path because they are, for me, an integral part of the final collections.
Last night, tribeca Issey Miyake and Surface debuted SymbiosisO: Voxel, an interactive textile installation developed by artists Eszter Ozsvald, Kärt Ojavee, and Alex Dodge. A collection of textile interfaces, SymbiosisO is comprised of 64 hexagonal pixels, or “voxels”, with a heat sensitive coating layer and embedded electronics. The human touch activates the textile, gradually causing a series of white lines to bisect the honeycomb shapes to reveal a tessellation of cubes. As heat spreads outward from its origin, the initial white lines disappear as new ones emerge, creating patterns that move in playful, curious ways around the place where the textile was touched.
The minimalist aesthetic of Miyake’s designs is a quality that translates to the interior of the multi-level flagship store, making it an ideal venue for lectures, performances, and installations not unlike SymbiosisO. The installation appeared effortlessly in place alongside the modern décor and titanium sculpture—designed by famed architect Frank Gehry—that typify the space. Because Miyake is well known for his use of unique fabrics and artful pleating techniques, SymbiosisO lends itself to a following that appreciates innovation in textile and design.
After making a lap around the store and stopping at the bar, most event-goers approached the installation, which was situated against the back wall. One man, not sure what to make of the technology, curiously applied his finger to the bright blue textile. Others pressed both their palms against it and waited eagerly for the technology to respond, as if they were in fascinating conversation with one another.
The idea at the core of Voxel, which began in 2009, is that it affords each user with a unique experience. It enables users to create their own animations, whereas previous incarnations of the technology—SymbiosisW (Wall) and Symbiosis S (Seat)—reveal predefined pattern arrangements in a way that mimic the behavioral patterns of an organism. The organic quality of the technology is one that is also inherent to the Miyake aesthetic, which has been kept alive by newly appointed womenswear designer Yoshiyuki Miyamae. “I want to place value not on superficial design or style elements, but on the thoughts of the wearer and the background of the manufacturing process,” reads Miyamae’s statement in the store’s brochure.
This attention to detail and simplicity is just one quality that has made Issey Miyake one of the most visionary designers working today. The duality present in his aesthetic—a blend of Eastern and Western elements—is something that cements his designs as works of art. Much like the Voxel technology, which is brought to life by the user, Miyake’s designs are meant to enhance each individual wearer’s experience.
With only a few torturous hours left until tonight’s finale of Pretty Little Liars, ABC Family’s wildly popular whodunit, fans are hoping that they finally find out the identity of “A,” the anonymous stalker. While the teen soap is stuffed with plenty of mystery and backstabbing, we suspect that Season 2 newcomer Tyler Blackburn might just be another reason PLL fans can’t seem to get enough. On screen, the California native plays Caleb Rivers, the quick-witted kid with a—what else?—troubled past who is easily one the show’s most intriguing characters. We spoke to him over the weekend, and while he wouldn’t reveal the identity of “A,” the 26-year-old did let us in on a few of his own personal secrets.
The season finale is expected to be quite a shocker. Without saying too much, what can we expect to see?
I think that it is mostly shocking because it has been so anticipated for the last two seasons. The show’s main mystery revolves around the identity of the stalker. The finale definitely doesn’t disappoint in an adrenaline-pumping aspect. You’re definitely left with your heart racing a little bit, and it doesn’t stop with the reveal.
Can you tell us about your character Caleb Rivers? He seems like a mysterious bad boy.
Caleb has definitely evolved over time. In the beginning, he was this sort of quick-witted, grungy, sketchy kind of dude. But now he’s evolved a little bit with his relationship to Hanna and has really changed in a lot of ways.
Do you have anything in common with Caleb?
I wouldn’t say we are that different, to be honest. I feel like he’s been through harder times than I have, in a lot of ways. I think he and I are both, at the core, pretty sensitive guys, but we sometimes put on a little front. He is pretty quick-witted, and I feel like I can usually keep up with most people. I feel that we are similar in those ways—along with others I’m sure.
You joined the cast for Season 2. Did you find it easy to fit in and be comfortable on set?
Yeah, I did. Obviously, the first day you’re a little bit nervous, but it was a pretty seamless transition. The girls are just so nice in general, and that definitely helped. The producers, the writers, and the crew are really cool. It’s like a little family and I feel like I fit in pretty quickly.
PLL has a pretty intense following of teenage girls. What’s that farthest a fan has gone to meet or talk to you? Any crazy fan mail?
Most fans are pretty respectful. It’s still a little bit weird to be recognized in general, but it does happen. I feel like it’s happening more and more, but it kind of comes with the territory. One thing that I don’t love is when I see people just taking pictures of me instead of just coming up to say “hi.” It definitely makes me feel like a zoo animal. I might be a little awkward if they do approach me, but I’d rather they just come say, ‘hey, I’m such a fan.’ That’s just a little bit more natural.
Do you have a girlfriend? If so, how does she feel about all the female attention?
At the moment, I’m single. My ex-girlfriend, she didn’t get upset necessarily. It was more awkward to see kissing on the show. The fans are usually younger girls, so it’s not like they are a huge threat.
Aside from PLL, are you working on any projects?
Of course, the show has been on hiatus for a little while, so I have been working on a few things. Once the show comes back into production, it’s going to be a little harder to do so. I am working on some music. I’ve also recorded a couple songs, one for a web series called Wendy, which is a modern-day, darker version of Peter Pan which was my favorite Disney movie growing up. I got to play this new and improved version of Peter Pan which I thought was pretty dope. It was really cool to do the stunts. There were some really cool water shots and it allowed me to do some things I hadn’t before, so I enjoyed that.
How did you get started in music?
Growing up I did school plays where we sang. My dad is in the music business and has been since I was a child, so I’ve been exposed to music for awhile. I went to some pretty awesome concerts growing up and there was just always music playing in the house. That hasn’t changed. I have music on all the time, as often as possible. My taste is very eclectic; therefore I am into exploring what I’d like to do musically. The web series required my character to be a singer, so it was a great opportunity to work that muscle, and get in the studio, and work on the song. I recorded a song, more recently, for an ABC Family promotion for The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which will be up for sale soon on iTunes. I look forward to exploring that side of my creativity.
You’ve done television and you’re venturing into music. Do you see yourself migrating to the big screen?
Absolutely, I would love to. That’s really my ultimate goal. Growing up, I did watch TV and I still do a little bit. To be honest, TV is not a huge interest of mine, which is ironic because I’m on it. I love movies. Growing up, watching The Goonies, I was like, ‘I want to be in this movie so badly!’ I love Stand By Me, Into the Wild, and Almost Famous. I actually love Leonardo DiCaprio’s earlier work, like, The Basketball Diaries, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I am definitely more of a film guy. It’s a different ball game, honestly, film versus TV. It’s about making that leap, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to do that at some point.
Do you have a dream role?
Nothing too specific, to be honest. I want to explore all genres and all types characters. I’d love to do some period pieces. I love Westerns. It would be extraordinarily cool, because you have to do a lot of research. I like that idea. Something like Into the Wild would be amazing, where you get to go to this amazing location and just live life vicariously through this character.
Outside of acting, do you have other creative pursuits or outlets?
I am exploring so many different things right now. I am really into hot yoga. It’s intense—it’s a physical workout but it’s a mind-fuck, too. You have to really push yourself mentally because it’s like 100 degrees in there. I’m really interested in photography right now.
For Sally LaPointe, clothing is about telling a story. Her fall/winter 2012 collection, which showed at New York Fashion Week, was inspired partly by Franz Kafka’s novellaThe Metamorphosis. Emotionally moved by the story, the designer made it her own with a collection that touched on such relevant themes as duality and fantasy. Perhaps even more stunning than the structured leather jackets, laser-cut mini dresses, and flowing high-waisted pants she sent down the runway, is the avant-garde designer’s undeniable talent for creating pieces that are abstract, yet functional.
While the narrative is what strings her collection together, LaPointe never forgets the woman she is designing for. Consistently churning out designs fit for the woman who is equally as powerful as she is feminine, LaPointe sticks to trademark silhouettes—structured shoulders and peplum waists. Unconcerned with trends, the designer stays true to the “dark edge” present in her own style, emphasizing femininity—a fresh breath of air after all the menswear-inspired collections we have been seeing. We caught up with the rising star for a quick Q &A.
BULLETT: You’re still fairly new to the fashion industry. Did you always imagine you would be a fashion designer?
SALLY LAPOINTE: To be honest, no. I didn’t realize I wanted to design clothing until I was a bit more exposed to it, in my late teens. Growing up, I always was, and knew I would be creating, but it was never strictly fashion. I think it wasn’t until I really had the exposure to it, learning more about it, and seeing it, that it really hit me. It just grabbed me in a way that nothing else did, so the decision was pretty clear.
Many of your designs are highly conceptual yet still wearable. Is it difficult to reconcile these two qualities sometimes?
I think finding that perfect balance in anything is a challenge. The way my brain works is very conceptual, but at the end of the day I am making clothing, and I want people to live in it. Yes, it proves to be difficult at times, but that is where the beauty lies. I feel something can never be too much of anything. It is something I am constantly working on, and believe I will always be searching for.
Your latest collection was based on the novella The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. What about the novella sparked your interest and inspired your designs?
When I read the book last summer, it just captured an emotion in me. It was a beautiful and emotional narrative, and I wanted to show this. The story was rich and embellished and this very much sparked my interest. I wanted to tell that story from my perspective.
Your designs are very edgy but still feminine. Would you say this aesthetic is reflective of your personal style?
Yes, I think you could say that. I think that I gravitate towards that sort of dark edge in my personal dress, but I do not want to look too androgynous, or too severe, I want to look like a woman. To me that is important.
Aside from literature, what other media inspires you? Are there any particular designers you look up to or follow closely?
I am really into stories, interesting happenings, things a bit one-off. That is how I got my inspiration for my Fall collection, I asked someone to tell me a story and they told me the story of The Metamorphosis, and it really inspired me. And I will definitely check out what’s going on elsewhere in the industry, I think it is good to know what else is happening out there.
What is something design-wise you would still like to do but have not yet had the chance to?
Menswear. I have a lot of requests for it. Not only would I love to do it, but it seems there would be an audience for it.
We heard you designed and made the shoes for your latest collection. Do you think shoemaking is something you will continue to pursue?
Well for the Fall ’12 collection the shoes were Alejandro Ingelmo for Sally LaPointe, it was his shoe design with my print design. I love shoes, and think they are just as important as the clothing in itself, but I may leave the shoe making up to the experts.
Rooney Mara‘s influence on Francisco Costa’s fall Calvin Klein collection was clear: Models wore austere black-banged hairstyles evocative of the star’s recent red-carpet appearances. Runway looks echoed the same Mara-as-muse sentiment with modest silhouettes in leather and wool that were both demure yet strikingly powerful. As always, Costa played with architectural details, but this time he went mathematical with bell-curved leather frocks, peplum jackets, and cinched-in waists. Dresses with sheer panels on top and full, calf-length skirts on bottom were sexy without being too revealing. Staying true to the brand’s simple aesthetic, Costa worked with a color palette of black, white, grey, and occasional pops of red-orange. Built-in volume and metal-banded belts kept the longer hemlines and dense fabrics from looking too heavy. As a brand renowned for its timeless design and simplicity, Calvin Klein shows us, once again, that classic silhouettes can still be made to look edgy and modern.
For Preen’s Fall 2012 collection, it is all about reconciling the old with the new. Dually inspired by Victorian-era scrapbooks and abstract expressionism, designers Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi presented a line that flawlessly interplayed loud, color-blocked hues, romantic florals, collage-like graphic prints, and delicate lace with sequin accents. A collection with so many different elements at play could have easily come off as messy and disjointed, but we must say, it is anything but. Preen’s latest collection is instead playful and effortless, ensuring the intended themes are present throughout and remaining consistent in the overarching palette and structure. Perhaps what makes the collection most successful is the ability of the designers to put forth fresh, new prints and innovative designs in traditional styles like pencil skirts, straight coats, blazers, and turtleneck sweaters. Preen is a label that, time and time again, does not settle for merely following trends, but rather, setting them.
After a pretty disappointing Spring 2012 collection, Katie Gallagher is back with a more evolved aesthetic that does not compromise her traditionally edgy style. Gallagher’s designs have outfitted the likes of Daphne Guinness and Lady Gaga, and after her F/W 2012 presentation we can see why. Bright spotlights in an otherwise stark showroom illuminated minimally made-up models with fuzzy up-dos. Contrast lighting complimented the earthy-hued collection of dresses, maxi skirts, leggings, and tailored jackets. The designer mixes soft, sheer fabrics alongside stiffer textiles in a way that would make even Rick Owens proud. If this collection of beautifully tailored pieces in luxurious fabrics and hues is any indication of what is yet to come from the young designer, we are certainly ready for more.
Yesterday, Milk Studios played host to Assembly New York‘s highly anticipated menswear debut. The designer behind the new line, Greg Armas, is already well known for his Ludlow Street shop, which is a men’s and women’s boutique carrying hard-to-find luxury labels and curated vintage items from around the world. Knowing that the shop caters to clients with well-constructed garments in unique, often handmade fabrics, we did not expect anything less from Armas’ own collection. Predictably, the collection was comprised of slouched-fit trousers, fine wool blazers, oversize coats, chunky knits, and fitted button-down shirts, all in clean, modern cuts. Staying true to his “less is more” aesthetic, what was truly remarkable about the collection was Armas’ construction and close attention to detail. In place of traditional lining, many pieces had banded seams designed for easier layering. A neutral palette of black, grey, tan, and rusty brown was the best possible complement to the organic, crinkly denim, linen, and wool. While the collection is not particularly surprising, we must applaud Armas for his zealous attention to detail and cut, qualities that will undoubtedly establish him as a master of minimalism.